The Financial Times has reported that there have been at least five applications to Ofcom to enter the bidding war to win a 4G mobile network licence. These are believed to be Vodafone, O2, EE, Three and BT.
Ofcom has previously confirmed that the “big” three mobile operators ( EE, Vodafone and O2 ) are guaranteed some form of 4G licence. Each will have a preferred 4G frequency spectrum that it needs to secure, these being within either the 800MHZ or 2.6GHz frequency bands, but each will need to outbid the other “big three” applicants to secure it.
The fourth 4G licence will be awarded outright to the highest bidder and this 4G spectrum is actually classed as reserve spectrum for auction purposes. This therefore appears to be a contest between BT and Three to secure the fourth licence. Ofcom has included within its rules a condition with regard to "rural 4G broadband coverage" and this may prove to be an important factor for Ofcom in the approval process of the 4G licences.
Looking at a potential 4G auction bid from Three, we already know that they have secured a slice of 1800 MHz 4G frequency spectrum ( a 20MHz slice of frequency ) from EE but we also know this can’t be used until approval is given via EE and Ofcom and this won’t be granted till September, 2013. A further 10MHz slice of frequency within the 1800MHz band becomes available for 4G use by Three in 2015.
4G.co.uk believe that Three need to win the fourth 4G licence otherwise we don’t see how they would be able to offer its “all you can eat data” allowance once they launch 4G as we suspect the chunk of 1800MHz frequency band is not sufficient to provide this nationally.
Looking at a potential 4G auction bid from BT we know that BT’s current 4G technology centres around rural broadband and is run by the BT Wholesale division of BT. BT Wholesale have been working with EE on a 4G trial in South Newquay, Cornwall during 2012. This seems to indicate one reason why BT could bid for a 4G licence – to offer 4G Broadband to its customers in rural areas.
Otherwise, could BT be planning a full 4G mobile national service and possibly be planning to share EE’s 4G network and masts, which would keep the costs down. Pure speculation but it could happen. It is interesting to note BT are currently Wi-Fi partners with EE and provide free Wi-Fi to all 4GEE customers
Sally Davis, chief executive of BT Wholesale has previously stated : “BT is committed to bringing the highest speed broadband to everyone in the UK, whether that’s over fibre, copper or airwaves.
Ofcom will announce the winners of the 4G auction either before Xmas or early in January.